For several months, senior operatives of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) quietly slipped into India to visit seven madrasas across three West Bengal border districts to build a robust network before the October 2 Burdwan blast exposed a growing terror plot.
Interrogation reports of two women arrested from Burdwan and related intelligence missives accessed by Hindustan Times reveal the larger cross-border design to destabilise Bangladesh and short-circuit its bilateral relationship with India. Rumi Bibi and Amina Bibi disclosed key details of senior JMB leaders who had the run of West Bengal for months. The interrogation reports cannot be used as evidence in court but are of immense value to investigators working on the case.
The women said JMB was on a recruitment and fund-raising drive for months. It targeted seven madrasas in Murshidabad, Malda and Nadia districts to recruit a dedicated cadre of at least 150 young men to carry out attacks in Bangladesh. Before the October 2 blast, nearly 50 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had been dispatched to Dhaka and Assam, the women told interrogators. “We don’t know if the bombs were meant for terror attacks in Assam but Dhaka was definitely a target,” a senior security official confirmed to HT.
The bomb factory was operational for three months with the husbands of the two women travelling regularly to Burrabazar in Kolkata to purchase basic ingredients. The Burdwan module was reporting to a JMB operative identified as Kausar Ali, a Bangladeshi citizen.
“JMB operatives based in Syhlet, Bangladesh, were sending cash through couriers to a doctor in Assam. The doctor would then inform Kausar who sent three recruits by road to Assam to personally collect the cash,” the interrogation report says.
The couriers would take elaborate detours to Berhampore, the district headquarters of Murshidabad, carrying cash consignments going up to Rs. 10 lakh at times. Kausar would also coordinate the delivery of the bombs from various modules to the Indo-Bangladesh border.
Indian intelligence agencies – the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) – had earlier identified two key JMB leaders, Sohail Mehfooz and Mohammed Bilal, regularly visiting the seven madrasas in India. They were joined by another JMB leader, Mohammed Habibur Rehman, who visited Murshidabad to meet several Indians and start a fund-collection drive.
According to intelligence reports, the details of the fund collection and recruitment from India was finalised at a meeting of the JMB leadership in August 2014 at the Darul-Ulum-Majharul madrasa in Nawabganj, Bangladesh.
The literature recovered from the Burdwan house also reveals links of JMB to several global terror outfits. There were pamphlets mentioning al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri and others addressed to “brothers in Chechnya.” A DVD supporting the al Qaeda and Chechen rebels was also recovered from the house along with 55 grenades, gelatin sticks, chemicals and five cellphones with 50 SIM cards.
The revelations of the Burdwan module have also put considerable strain on the ongoing counterterrorism cooperation between New Delhi and Dhaka.
“For the last six years Dhaka had proved to be a major ally for us in tracking down key terrorists,” a former R&AW chief told Hindustan Times. The assistance from Dhaka helped neutralise the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and several jihadi outfits like the Indian Mujahideen (IM) using Bangladesh as their base of operations.
The ISI, which worked out of the Pakistan Embassy in Dhaka, provided material and financial support to these outfits working against India. “Some of the plans to target Mumbai on 26/11 was also done out of Bangladesh and we had intercepts of the LeT’s head of operations speaking to a key operative in Bangladesh to plan the attack,” a former senior intelligence official said.
But for various reasons, New Delhi failed to reciprocate the help. “At bilateral talks between the Union home secretaries of India and Bangladesh, they would give us a list of 20 people who they believed were being sheltered in West Bengal. They were criminals and terrorists actively plotting against the government in Bangladesh but the Centre just couldn’t prevail upon the state government to help,” a senior home ministry official said.
Some of the names on the list shared by Bangladesh include JMB leaders who are now believed to be connected to the Burdwan module. “Nearly four years ago they asked us for Shahdat Hossain, a criminal and terrorist operating out of a madrasa in the Lalgola area of Murshidabad in West Bengal. But the state government just refused to cooperate with us,” a foreign ministry official familiar with the home secretary talks said. The same madrasas have now been identified by the two women arrested from Burdwan as targets for the JMB’s fund collection and recruitment drives.
On another occasion, Bangladesh was keen to extradite a suspected terrorist identified as Sohail Mahfuz. The then special secretary for internal security and R&AW chief, KC Verma, sought home minister P Chidambaram’s help to deal with the West Bengal government. But despite repeated efforts, the Union government failed to get the man Bangladesh had asked for. Frustrated with the lack of cooperation from the state, the R&AW chief reportedly told Chidambaram that he could get more done in Bangladesh than the home minister could do in West Bengal.
Replying to a question about her government’s ties with India in the past five years, Hasina said she wants good relations with all regional countries with the common interest of fighting poverty and deriving mutual benefits.
Most voters preferred to stay at home fearing violence during the polling in 147 out of 300 constituencies in 59 districts. Candidates in other constituencies would be declared elected unopposed due to the boycott, officials said.
According to media reports, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League won 95 seats out of the 147 up for elections. Jatiya Party (JP) secured 12 seats, while 13 seats went to smaller parties or independent candidates.
Hasina won from Gopalganj and Rangpur constituencies. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, boycotted the polls after her arch-rival and Prime Minister Hasina rejected the opposition’s demand for a neutral caretaker regime for election oversight.
Deadly violence flared across the country despite tens of thousands of security personnel deployed to maintain law and order. Police said 17 people, mostly opposition cadres, and a security personnel were killed after the overnight deaths of an election officer and two other people.
A total of 390 candidates, mostly from the Awami League and its ally Jatiya Party, contested from 147 seats where the number of voters was nearly 44 million.
Protesters hurled crude bombs at polling centres and stole ballot papers during the “one-sided” contest boycotted by the opposition. Voting was suspended at 160 centres due to torching of booths and snatching of ballot boxes and papers.
Opposition cadres set over 200 polling stations on fire. Hasina’s Awami League was set for a sweeping victory in the polls as the outcome was never in doubt because of the boycott. The party expressed satisfaction at the turnout.
"The party which will win the election will form the government and run the country," top Awami League leader Tofail Ahmed said.
The BNP said the people have said no to the “one-sided” polls. “People have rejected the government by saying no to its expectation of clutching to power through the one-sided election,” BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said soon after polling ended.
The opposition, on Saturday, had enforced a 48-hour nationwide strike aimed at derailing the polls. It announced another 48-hour strike beginning on Monday. The opposition alliance will enforce a fresh shutdown alongside the ongoing indefinite blockade of rail, roads and waterways.
The election commission has not yet announced the official turnout in 10th parliamentary election.
Chief election commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad said boycott by some political parties and thick fog were reasons for the low voter turnout. He, however, claimed that the polls were “fa
"I hope you will join our gathering, and defy all the obstacles that are being placed in our way, so that we can save democracy," Ms Zia said in a video message shortly after police banned the rally scheduled for Sunday, a week before the elections.
The former premier posted the video message from her home in a Dhaka neighbourhood where she has been under unofficial house arrest since Wednesday, according to her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
Her statement came shortly after Dhaka police said they would not sanction any such protest, citing fears of violence and public safety.
"We have not given permission to the BNP rally as we have intelligence that sabotage may occur," police spokesman Monirul Islam told AFP.
"The programme will not be allowed because of public safety."
Ms Zia has previously said that she wants to lead the rally, saying it would be a way “to say ‘no’ to these farcical elections”.
The BNP and 20 other parties have announced they are boycotting the January 5 election, fearing the result will be rigged.
The parties have been demanding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stands down and allows a neutral caretaker government to oversee the polls as in previous contests, but she has refused to yield.
The credibility of the polls has been further undermined by the refusal of foreign countries and organisations to send observers, but Ms Hasina has insisted that they will go ahead regardless.
The ruling Awami League will urge the foreign ministry to cut diplomatic relations with Pakistan following resolution of the country’s National Assembly expressing concern over execution of war criminal Abdul Quader Mollah.
The decision came at a meeting of AL’s international affairs sub-committee today at party chief Sheikh Hasina’s political office in Dhanmondi this afternoon.
“We have discussed the issue and will notify our foreign ministry to consider the decision to curtail diplomatic ties with Pakistan. Then government will take decision,” Muhammad Jamir, president of the sub-committee, told journalists after the meeting.
The party also denounced the European Union for skipping Victory Day programme at the National Mausoleum in Savar.
“The European Union violated diplomatic norms by not attending Victory Day programme in Savar,” added Jamir, also a former ambassador.
Unidentified miscreants vandalised six idols of Hindu gods and goddesses at a temple in Patgram upazila of Lalmonirhat early today.
The criminals entered Parapukur temple at Shafinagar village breaking open its iron gate and vandalised the idols anytime after the midnight, said Harendra Nath Roy, caretaker of the temple.
Roy blamed the activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Chhatra Shibir for the temple attack this morning, a day after the activists heavily clashed with law enforcers at Kafir Bazar, which is only 1.5 kilometres off the Shafinagar village.
Three Jamaat-Shibir men were killed in the clash. In retaliation, the activists killed an Awami League man in the same area.
The caretaker said over hundred of activists of Jamaat and Shibir along with sharp weapons in their hands paraded the entire area till the midnight.
“We, the Hindu people, couldn’t go out of the house (in the midnight) fearing the activists,” he said adding that the activists might have damaged the idols.
Talking to reports, Sunil Chandra Sen, president of the temple’s committee, claimed that many Hindu families in the village fled away from their homes last night fearing Jamaat-Shibir men’s attack on them.
The minority people in the upazilas became very upset after the idols of god and goddesses were vandalised, he said.
It was the first such attack on the temple established 200 years ago, he added.
Confirming the vandalism, Sohrab Hossain, officer-in-charge of Patgram Police Station, said, they were informed about the matter this morning.
Police will take necessary step after investigation, the OC said.
Dhaka: Bangladesh on Thursday executed Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Kader Mullah, convicted of atrocities in 1971 war of independence.
Mollah is the first war crimes convict to be sent to the gallows since the country’s independence in 1971.
The decision to execute him was upheld by the Bangladesh Supreme Court on Thursday, two days after his hanging was dramatically put on hold in a last-minute reprieve.
For his atrocities and for siding with Pakistani troops during the 1971 war, 65-year-old Mollah was dubbed the “Butcher of Mirpur”, after a Dhaka suburb where he led the infamous Al-Badr militia in slaughtering a large number of people, including women and children.
A death warrant was issued for Mollah, who being held at the high security Dhaka Central Jail, on Tuesday but the apex court put off the execution so that his petition challenging the death sentence could be heard.
The apex court earlier today rejected Mollah’s petition. “(The review petition is) not maintainable,” Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain told a packed courtroom after two days of arguments on the maintainability of the plea.
Mollah’s family met him for the second time since Tuesday inside the jail. Witnesses said Mollah’s two sons, four daughters and wife entered the jail at 6:25 pm and came out half an hour later.
Paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and police enforced a tight vigil, mobilising riot cars and armoured personnel carriers around the prison in Old Dhaka.
Mollah, the assistant secretary-general of the Jamaat and the fourth-highest leader of the party, was the first politician to be found guilty of war crimes by the Supreme Court after it rejected an appeal to acquit him.
Jail officials earlier in the day said Mollah refused to seek presidential clemency under a constitutional provision when they asked him whether he wants to request the president to pardon him, media reports said.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters, “The government has fulfilled its obligation by sending executive magistrate twice to ask him if he seeks presidential mercy.”
The Awami League-led government began conducting the war crimes trials in keeping with a pledge made during the 2008 election.
Hartal and pre-hartal violence has left at least one person dead, nine people burnt and over 120 people injured.
Pro-hartal pickets hurled a petrol bomb inside a packed human haulier, burning six of its passengers in Laxmi Bazar of Old Dhaka around 9:00pm yesterday, the first day of the opposition’s 84-hour shutdown.
The injured were rushed to the burn unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Of them, Montu Chandra Paul, 32, a jeweller by profession, has suffered burns on around 90 percent of his body.
The other injured are Kamal Hossain with nearly 25 percent of his body burnt, Muktar Mondol with 15 percent and Sagor Das, Mintu Das, Swapna Mondol and Mukta Mondol with less than five percent.
After the horrifying death of 14-year-old Monir on Thursday, who was burnt by pickets in Gazipur, 13-year-old Ronny and 10-year-old Shimul became the latest child victims of arson carried out in similar fashion.
Pro-hartal supporters set fire to a parked bus in Mirpur in the capital around dawn yesterday. Ronny, who worked as the bus helper, was inside during the attack. With flames all around him, the teenager somehow managed to break a window with his foot and get out.
Shimul was trapped in a human haulier, which the hartal-makers set fire to around 10:00pm on Sat Mashjid Road in the capital. Not caring about injuries to himself, pedestrian Mishor Khan got the child out of the burning vehicle.
Shimul had 15 percent of his body blistered and was taken to DMCH. The boy was apparently alone in the human haulier and he could not say more than his name and age before he passed out at DMCH.
Harunur Rashid, 32, a rental car driver, was trying to get back to Mymensingh town after dropping off his client out of town on the eve of the hartal on Saturday.
Around 8:30pm, pro-hartal supporters hurled brick chunks and eventually a Molotov cocktail at his microbus near the town.
Montu, Kamal, Muktar, Harun, Shimul and Ronny were in critical condition with burn injuries at DMCH.
In Chittagong, University of Science and Technology Chittagong employee Nirmal Das was killed when the auto-rickshaw he was travelling on flipped over as it was trying to get away from angry pickets at Madunaghat area of Hathazari around 8:20am yesterday, our correspondent reported.
A total of 120 hours of strikes in the last two weeks had left at least 18 people killed and scores more injured in hartal violence. In line with previous shutdowns, the hartal yesterday was marked by clashes across the country.
Yesterday, activists of the BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance clashed with ruling Awami League men and law enforcers in several districts. The opposition men also resorted to arson and vandalism, leaving many injured, reported our district correspondents.
In Dhaka, hartal supporters set fire to a ward unit office of the Awami League in Demra and torched six vehicles in Dhanmondi, Mirpur and Laxmi Bazar, and Kaliakoir and Ashulia at the edge of Dhaka.
They set off homemade bombs in front of New Market and Pallabi police stations, and in Nayapaltan, Mohakhali, Badda and Hatirjheel areas.
Pickets yesterday also hurled a crude bomb at the Uttara home of Workers Party Bangladesh President Rashed Khan Menon, MP.
A cameraperson of Channel 24 was injured when pickets exploded a crude bomb at Kalyanpur in the morning.
Criminals also hurled two bombs at the office of daily Karatoa on Chokjadu Road in Bogra around 6:30pm, but no one was hurt.
Meanwhile, police recovered about 200 homemade bombs and bomb-making materials and arrested four alleged Jamaat-Shibir activists at a house in Kathalbagan area late last night.
They also seized books on jihad found in the house known as a mess for bachelors, said Assistant Sub-Inspector Shahidul Islam of Kalabagan Police Station.
Rail communications between Dhaka and the north and south had been suspended for five and a half hours after criminals cut off 18 inches of a rail line near Ishwardi station early yesterday.
Trains running between Dhaka and Rangpur, Rajshahi, Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari, Bogra, Naogaon, Joypurhat, Sirajganj, Gaibandha, Dinajpur, Khulna, Chuadanga, Kushtia and Jessore were affected.
At least 50 BNP activists and two policemen were injured during clashes on TA Road and in Shimrailkandi area of Brahmanbaria yesterday.
Witnesses said when police arrested BNP district General Secretary Jahirul Haque Khokan at Shimrailkandi, hundreds of opposition activists gathered there and exploded several crude bombs.
They vandalised shops and motorbikes and threw brick chunks at police, who retaliated with 300 rubber bullets and teargas shells, police said.
At least 19 people were hurt at Baghmara-Shishua bridge area of Sarishabari in Jamalpur yesterday during a clash. Eight activists of BNP and Awami League and a child sustained bullet injuries.
The clash started when local Awami League men tried to stop opposition men from picketing around noon.
In Kishoreganj, a clash between Awami League and BNP activists left at least 50 people, including seven policemen, injured at Pulerghat Bazar. The clash erupted when the ruling party men tried to stop opposition activists from bringing out a procession.
Clashes also left 12 injured in Natore, 10 each in Feni and Noakhali. There were also reports of explosions, vandalism, road blockades, arson and arrests in Chandpur, Satkhira, Bogra, Jhenidah, Gazipur, Madaripur, Narayanganj, Dinajpur, Faridpur, Barisal, Bhola and Sylhet.
Police in Chittagong said BNP activist Mohammed Sahabuddin, 40, lost his hand from the wrist down when a bomb he was making went off in Rangunia upazila. He was arrested around 1:30pm, three hours after the bomb had exploded.
Three long hartals in three weeks in a row were taking its toll on the communication sector, industries, education and the economy.
Long-distance buses stayed put and a handful of city buses were seen on the streets, with people struggling to get into them whenever they stopped.
Kitchen market traders with small investments seemed to be the hardest hit with poor supply and high prices.
The 19 lakh Junior School Certificate and Junior Dakhil Certificate examinees were again going through uncertainty. Two of their tests had already been deferred because of last week’s hartal and this shutdown forced the government to reschedule five more exams.
Zyma Islam, Shaheen Mollah, Wasim Bin Habib, Tamanna Khan and our district correspondents contributed to this report.
LONDON: India, the world’s child marriage capital, has once again failed its under-age brides.
The country has refused to sign the first-ever global resolution on early and forced marriage of children led by the UN.
The resolution was supported by a cross-regional group of over 107 countries, including almost all countries with high rates of child marriage—Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Chad, Guatemala, Honduras and Yemen.
The resolution floated by the UN Human Rights Council stressed the need to include child, early and forced marriage in post-2015 international development agenda and acknowledged the multi-faceted impact of early marriage on the “economic, legal, health and social status of women and girls” as well as “the development of the community as a whole”.
India has the record of having the highest absolute number of child brides: about 24 million. This represents 40% of the 60 million world’s child marriages.
The percentage of women between the ages of 20 and 24 who were married before 18 years of age has decreased from 54% in 1992-93 to 43% in 2007-08, thus showing a reduction of 11% in 15 years. This improvement however is far too little, experts say.
Lakshmi Sundaram, the global coordinator of Girls Not Brides who was at the UN general assembly last week told TOI: “India refusing to sign the resolution is highly disappointing. Though India is putting in place a national plan to combat child marriages, it was strange why it did not stand up against the social ill in the international stage. India would have given out a positive signal that it is willing to find a solution by signing the resolution”.
Sundaram added: “Child marriage is a social ill across south Asian countries. However, Nepal probably is the only country that signed the resolution. Both India and Bangladesh which have high rates of child marriages didn’t sign in. It a setback globally to the cause that India didn’t speak out”.
The Centre for Reproductive Rights says governments in the South Asia region have failed to enact and enforce adequate laws that prohibit child marriage.
"The practice persists with impunity. In South Asia, 46% of women between ages 20-24 report having been married before age 18 in 2010. This translated to 24.4 million women in the region. Estimates project that from 2010 to 2030, 130 million more girls in the region will be married."
"Child marriage does not constitute a single rights violation - rather, every instance of child marriage triggers a continuum of violations that continues throughout a girl’s life. Child marriage endangers the survival and well-being of women and girls by exposing them to forced initiation into sex and sexual violence as well as to early, unplanned and frequent pregnancies. Further, women and girls married as children are often denied educational opportunities, are isolated from society and face a lifetime of economic dependence," the Centre said.
India introduced laws against child marriage in 1929, and set 12 years as the legal age for marriage. Later, it was increased to 18 years in 1978.
The exodus from Bangladeshis into India has for the first time been termed by the United Nations as “the single largest bilateral stock of international migrants” in the eastern hemisphere and also in thedeveloping world.
Data revealed on Thursday by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) shows that in 2013, India was home to 3.2 million Bangladeshi residents who had migrated into the country and settled there.
Not surprisingly, India was the favourite destination for Bangladeshi migrants in 2013, the report said.
For Indians, however, it was the Middle East that was the clear favourite for migration. Two countries in the Middle East were the main destinations - UAE, having 2.9 million Indian migrants, and Saudi Arabia which had 1.8 million.
However the biggest rise in the number of Indians migrating to a single country was to the US. In 2013, 2.1 million Indians were in the US, which was also home to 2.2 million foreign-born from China and 2 million from the Philippines.
The UN-DESA report said that since 2000, the number of international migrants born in China or India and living in the US had doubled, whereas the number of Mexican foreign-born had only risen by about 31%.
South Asians were the largest group of international migrants living outside their home region. Of the 36 million international migrants from south Asia, 13.5 million resided in the oil-producing countries of west Asia.
The report said more people were living abroad than ever before. In 2013, 232 million people, or 3.2% of the world’s population, were international migrants, compared with 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990. The developed countries were home to 136 million migrants, compared to 96 million in the developing countries.
Most international migrants were of working age (20 to 64 years) and accounted for 74% of the total. Globally, women accounted for 48% of all international migrants.
Asians and Latin Americans living outside their home regions formed the largest global diaspora groups. In 2013, Asians represented the largest group, accounting for about 19 million migrants living in Europe, some 16 million in north America and about 3 million in Oceania.
The report, released by UN-DESA’s population division, said Europe and Asia combined hosted nearly two-thirds of all international migrants.